MariaOrtega, 15, and her son, Miguel, decorate sugar cookies on Feb. 12 at a meetingfor teenage parents participating in the Oklahoma Parents As Teachers Program.In Tahlequah, Okla. (Photo by Christina Good Voice)
Cherokee Nation and Tahlequah Schools offer new Head Start
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation and Tahlequah Public Schools are partnering to offer an Early Head Start class for children of teen parents attending Tahlequah High School. The class is set to begin this spring at THS.
The class will care for nearly 50 children between the ages of 6 weeks to 3 years. THS will provide the on-campus facility, while the tribe will provide staff and other necessities.
The facility will be located in the same building as the Tahlequah Central Academy, an alternative education program where many teen parents attend classes.
“Tahlequah Public Schools is excited to be partnering with the Cherokee Nation Head Start to expand their program to serve our students who are teen parents,” said TPS Assistant Superintendent Billie Jordan. “We have recognized the need for this program for years and have searched for ways to provide this service so that teen parents can attend school and at the same time learn hands-on parenting skills while their babies receive quality child care.”
Laura Baltazar, 19, said she’s excited the class is nearly open because it would give her peace of mind knowing her children, 3-year-old Elder and 7-month-old Eyzel, would be cared for.
“It’ll be easier because they’ll just be right there,” she said.
Bethany McDonald, who is with the Oklahoma Parents As Teachers at Central Academy, said the class would also allow parents to ease their minds about paying for daycare.
Baltazar said she pays $400 a month for daycare, but with the class she can start saving that money.
“This will help save a lot of money,” she said. “A lot of young moms, we want to come to school but we have our babies.”
McDonald, who works daily with the teen parents on parenting skills, said she sees the class as removing an obstacle to their learning.
“I see a great way for our (OPAT) program to partner with the Head Start,” she said. “I see it merging so well. We’re going to be able to have better access to our teen moms. They’re going to be right here.”
Some teen moms said the class would also help them be able to concentrate more on school if they know their babies are in good hands. Maria Ortega, 15, said she’ll be able to focus better once the Head Start opens because her 10-month-old son Miguel will down the hall.
“It’s going to be easier,” she said. “He’ll be closer to me.”
Principal Chief Chad Smith said the CN created the program to be a good partner in the community, to keep teenage parents in school to finish their educations and get the fathers of the children involved in the children’s lives.
“Through establishing this partnership with the school, we can help provide a way for the students to continue their education, which in turn will help the community,” he said.
Tribal and school officials agreed that students have a better chance of attending college or another form of post-secondary education upon graduation from high school.
Doing so will help the students better provide for their family later, Jordan said.
“There is so much research showing what an effective program it is anyway and how well those babies do in school,” she said. “If we want to talk about really overcoming poverty, Head Start is a great way.”
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – While many schools within the Cherokee Nation’s jurisdiction are struggling with the Oklahoma State Board of Education’s decision to cut education funding by $47 million this year, tribal officials said the Cherokee Immersion Charter School would not be affected.
“No classrooms or students will be directly impacted this school year as a result of state education cuts, which is just one of many sources of funding encompassing the Cherokee Immersion Charter School’s budget,” Dr. Neil Morton, Education Services senior advisor, said.
On Jan. 7 the state board voted to approve roughly $47 million in budget cuts from Oklahoma public schools. The figure represents about 3 percent of each school district’s fiscal year budget ending June 30.
To help alleviate the strain on schools using the per-student formula, the board recommended making deeper cuts to specific programs.
Areas affected include a 55 percent reduction in advanced placement teacher training and testing fee assistance, a 30 percent reduction in school lunch matching funds and a 50 percent reduction in staff and teacher development. State funds allocated for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, were eliminated completely.
Holly Davis, Cherokee Immersion Charter School principal, said the school would not be forced to cut back as other schools are halfway through the fiscal year.
“We are fortunate that the Cherokee Nation supports education, as it should be,” Davis said. “The majority of our funds come from the Cherokee Nation, so state budget cuts will not impact our school like other public schools who rely solely on state funding.”
Morton said the tribe’s Education Services is monitoring any future funding discussions, but as of publication, it is business as usual.
“The Cherokee Nation continues its effort to preserve our cultural identity by funding the immersion school each year with about $2 million in tribal funding so that our youngest generations continue to learn and speak the Cherokee language to carry it on,” he said. “That mission will not change.”
The cuts come after state finance officials declared a revenue loss in December, largely due to struggles within the oil and gas industry.
While the immersion school may not see reductions, other schools within the CN territory could be forced to cut back on staff or close.
Salina Public School Superintendent Tony Thomas said his district is trying to survive amid the projected cuts, which he estimates to be between $55,000 to $70,000 at the school.
“We have already cut programs and have had class sizes increase because of funding cuts since 2009,” Thomas said. “We have lost over $600,000 just in state aid since 2009. We will continue to look for all areas where we can cut back in spending. Salaries are the biggest area, but we will also cut back on professional development and travel and the purchasing of new items at this time.”
Thomas said he plans to continue operations without cutting staff, but knows difficult decisions are still coming, as the state will face an even bigger budget deficit of $900 million in the next fiscal year.
“In the next few months we will formulate a plan to not only deal with the current cuts but also the suspected 7 percent cut we may take with the budget next school year,” he said. “With the anticipation of the state having $900 million dollars less to spend next year, there is no way that education will not take a big hit for next year.”
Stillwell Public Schools Superintendent Geri Gilstrap said her school will be forced to make a $100,000 cut and is concerned about the possibility of more before the end of the fiscal year.
“We have worked diligently to secure grant funds to offset the budget cuts for years now and have watched our carryover funds closely as we continue to be cut in funding,” she said. “Grant writing and donations from private donors used to supplement our budget, and now those are vital dollars helping supply our students with the updated programs and equipment they need and deserve.”
She cited the lack of funding for STEM programs as particularly troubling, saying it jeopardizes the vision she has to provide an education that “envelopes individual potentials, creating well-rounded, college- and trade school-ready students.”
The cuts have both districts watching state lawmakers closely.
“We must continue to make our voice heard among our legislators that determine where the funding goes,” Gilstrap said. “We must continue to suggest to the legislators that better financial decisions be made in order to insure the children of Oklahoma are made a priority.”
Thomas agreed. “We need to fix these problems at the state level and the legislature, along with the governor, who needs to put education first,” he said. “The kids of this state deserve better than what we are giving them.”
FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Long hours and determination has helped Cherokee Nation citizen Ethan Lester achieve his goal of being accepted into Yale University.
Sleep deprivation from hours of studying has paid off as he enrolls at Yale this fall.
“It takes a ridiculous amount of work,” he said. “I’ve worked for hours and hours and hours on end. There have been streaks of weeks on end where I’ve gotten three hours of sleep each night, just like staying up and doing homework.”
Lester attends Hopkins School in New Haven, Connecticut. He said attending the preparatory institution, which was built in 1660, has helped him on his path to Yale.
“Hopkins, it has really prepared me for Yale,” he said.
Lester said he started wanting to attend an Ivy League university while in middle school.
“I decided that I wanted to apply early there (Yale) my freshman year, I think. So it’s been a long work in progress. I would say probably back in middle school, maybe back in sixth grade or something like that, I’d been working at it since then,” he said. “It started to solidify around seventh and eighth grade and then from there it was just basically working hard all through high school, with Yale as my dreams.”
Aside from taking Advance Placement calculus, chemistry and Spanish classes, Lester said he is head of the debate team, sings in concert choir and a senior mentor for incoming freshman.
“I give them advice, and I’m just kind of like a friendly face on campus,” he said.
Lester said within his busy schedule he still finds time to have a social life.
“I think it’s important to have a mix of both academic stuff and stuff you do outside of school, whether it’s like sports or singing, community service, spending time with friends,” he said.
Lester said for his Yale essay he wrote about his parents coming together and giving him his “duel heritage,” which includes being Cherokee.
“Basically my dad, he’s from down South. He’s from Arkansas and that’s where I get my Cherokee in me. My mom was from up North, and they met in a dance club in New Haven and that kind of characterized my life,” he said. “The title of my paper was ‘Two Worlds Collided’ because the southern world and the Native culture.”
When it comes to his Cherokee heritage, Lester said he focused on what it means to him.
“I talked a lot about how because of this duel heritage, like that Native side plays a role in one half of who I am, like the hunting, the fishing and the outdoorsy-ness and the camping, how I just love the outdoors and how I love natural beauty and all that stuff,” he said. “I think that is how my Native culture and my Native heritage manifests itself in my life.”
While attending Yale, Lester said he plans to become a part of the Native American Cultural Center so he can join a community of people who are also Native.
“It’s like instant friends as soon as you get there, and like you instantly attach on to them because you have that bond of being both Native American. It’s like a different bond then just friendship,” he said.
Lester said because of his efforts at Hopkins, a CN flag now hangs in the school’s athletic center among flags from various countries. The flags represent students who attended the school. He said it is the only tribal flag displayed.
After all his hard work Lester said he is excited for his future at Yale.
“It’s a dream come true because you can do anything you want there. It’s one of the greatest learning institutions in the world and that just really excites me because like I said I love learning and I’m an intellectual person. I hope to get around and get out and enjoy the community and join organizations, centers and things like that,” he said. “I’m just excited about the whole experience.”
Randy, Lester’s father, said he is “proud” of his son’s determination.
“I’ve seen him sacrifice so many things and weekends for his academics that I wanted him to get in to his first choice. I didn’t care where his first choice was, but it just so happened that his first choice was Yale,” he said. “I was happy about that because it’s not far from home. I can get to him if I need to. But I just wanted it for him because that’s what he wanted, and I felt like after seeing him sacrifice for so long for him to get it was just a tremendous, tremendous thing for our family.”
As for Ethan’s plans after Yale, he said he hopes to eventually attend medical school.
“With future plans, I’m planning on going into the sciences, probably chemistry or physics. I plan to go on the pre-med track as well. I plan on going to a medical school afterwards for another 12 years or so,” he said.
BROKEN ARROW, Okla. – On Feb. 6, those who want to create their own painting, while helping Northeastern State University’s 44th annual Symposium on the American Indian, can do so at Pinot’s Palette in Broken Arrow.
The fundraising event costs $40 and begins at 2 p.m. It will take place at 212 S. Main St.
Those in attendance will paint a piece titled “Oklahoma Breeze.” The painted piece features a rolling, grassy plain with a dandelion, an outline of Oklahoma and a heart inside of Oklahoma.
According to pinotspalette.com, the business is donating $15 of every ticket sold for the event to NSU’s annual symposium.
The symposium is set to take place April 11-16 at NSU’s Tahlequah campus with the theme being Indigenous Movement: Empowering Generations for Progressive Revitalization.
Tickets for the Pinot’s Palette fundraising event can be bought at <a href="http://www.pinotspalette.com/brokenarrow/class/80148" target="_blank">www.pinotspalette.com/brokenarrow/class/80148</a>.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On Jan. 14, Grand View School held its first Parent University to inform parents and students about college and vocational opportunities, as well as grants and scholarships.
The school’s federal grants director, Margaret Carlile, said the focus was to get students thinking about higher education. She said officials from the Cherokee Nation’s College Resource Center and Career Services spoke about scholarship opportunities and available programs.
She said workers also helped parents and students apply for Oklahoma’s Promise Scholarship, which students must enroll for while in the eighth, ninth or 10th grade. The student’s family income must also not exceed $50,000 per year to be eligible for the scholarship.
“It’s an amazing program. It’s not just for colleges. They can use it at vocational programs, also,” she said.
Carlile said a grant from the U.S. Education and Interior departments funds the Parent University.
“Tonight is our first Parent University for our National Youth Community Project Grant. We were one of 12 groups in the nation, and the only public school, stand-alone public school, who received one of these four-year grants,” she said.
According to a 2015 Cherokee Phoenix article, the school received approximately $341,000 for the first year with the possibility of being funded up to four years, depending on congressional approval.
Carlile said with the grant school officials want to get students interested in opportunities after they complete their high school.
“Our focus is college and career, so we’re going to be supporting students in examining careers, preparing themselves for college, and we’re doing leadership activities,” she said. “We’ve partnered with the Cherokee Nation Foundation and Northeastern (State University) and some other groups in the area to provide mentoring and (to) visit campuses.”
Carlile said she even hopes to take students to the Oklahoma State University-Institute of Technology in Okmulgee.
“I want the kids to not only think about college because you know the answer, ‘well, I want to be a doctor,’ but I want them to understand that there’s great jobs from a technical institute, also,” she said.
She said getting students on local campuses helps them feel familiar with the surroundings if they plan to attend one of the universities or institutions.
“I want them to learn that it’s not scary up there,” she said. “I want you to be able to go on that campus and say, ‘oh, I’ve been in there before.’”
Carlile said she and her colleagues try to make differences in their students’ lives.
“Sometimes you don’t know for a long time that you made a difference, but sometimes they come back and check in and say ‘I’m in school. I wanted to let you know that it made a difference,’” she said.
Carlile said school officials plan to continue the Parent University as a monthly event.
“The emphasis will be different, but tentatively we’re planning a resource fair of some sort in February. March will be a literacy event, and in April we’re going to have a family STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) night. We’ll have hands-on science activities that the children and their families will do and, we’ll just kind of be there to facilitate it,” she said.
Tahlequah resident Melissa Wofford said she attended the first Parent University to learn more about it. Her son, Caleb, attends the school and is in the fourth grade.
“I was kind of hoping to see what it was about and see what was going on up here at the school and see what opportunities they had because I heard they had gotten a grant, but I didn’t really know what it was about,” she said.
Wofford said she’s glad to see Grand View offering such opportunities.
“Grand View’s an awesome school, and they give a lot of really cool opportunities,” she said. “We’ve really, really enjoyed having our kids here.”
Carlile said in the future school officials hope to get more families coming to Parent University events.
“This is just our first step. We’re going to get better at it. Most people don’t know what we’re doing yet. It’s taken a little while to disseminate the information and the opportunities,” she said. “We have high expectations and high hopes for what we’ll be able to accomplish.”
Carlile said if anyone is interested in talking to students about careers or giving students tours of their workplaces to call at 918-456-5131.
PARK HILL, Okla. – The Cherokee Heritage Center’s new exhibit “From Talking Leaves to Pixels: The History of the Cherokee Syllabary” took years of work and the input of multiple people before becoming a reality.
The exhibit, which runs until April 2 inside the CHC’s museum, encompasses the history of the written language as well as its uses today.
“The exhibit was in its planning stages as early as 2013 when I arrived here as executive director,” Dr. Candessa Tehee said. “It was the brainchild of Michael Yantz, who was our former curator. Callie Chunestudy, our new curator came on in November of 2015. So to finalize the planning of the exhibit, Roy Boney Jr., manager of the Cherokee Nation Language Program, very graciously stepped in as guest curator of the exhibit.”
“Over the last several years I’ve been doing a lot of research on the syllabary as it relates to the current technologies.” Boney said. “In order for our language to work in the digital realm we had to know where it came from and how it worked and how it developed. So the research has been there for a while but putting it together into a format in which you can actually tell the story was quite a challenge.”
The Cherokee Nation adopted the syllabary in 1821 for use as a writing system. CN citizen Sequoyah, who was not literate in any other language, making it a remarkable aspect of Cherokee intellect and innovation, developed it. The syllabary revolutionized Cherokee society. In a short time, Cherokee people became more literate than their white neighbors.
“What’s really unique about the exhibit” Tehee said, “is that we feature a piece of the syllabary in use for every decade since it’s adoption by Cherokee Nation, all way from the 1820s until modern day. Including its use at the Cherokee Nation Immersion Charter School here in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, by children as young as 3 years old. We are able to illustrate through the exhibit that’s currently on display that the syllabary and our language is very much a living part of modern Cherokee lives.”
The exhibit shows that today the Cherokee language is available in several digital platforms. It is part of the operating system of Apple products such as iphones and Mac computers. There is also a fully immersive Cherokee language environment on Google’s Gmail. Cherokee is also available in Microsoft operating systems and can be used in Microsoft Office applications. It’s also being made available on Androids, using Jelly bean operating systems.
Tehee said the exhibit should take CHC exhibit gallery visitors from the fabled Talking Leaves era of the early 1800s to the digital forefront of today. She also paid tribute to the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper, which is included in the exhibit for publishing in Cherokee and English since the 1820s.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen Isaiah Soap is teaching a beadwork class at Northeastern State University’s Tahlequah campus.
The class is from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays for the remainder of the spring semester and takes place at the John Vaughan Library’s second floor.
The class is available to NSU students and is free to attend.
For more information, call NSU’s Indigenous Scholar Development Center at 918-444-3042.